Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What We Give Up, What We Keep

It hangs in my front picture window near the entrance to my home.  It's a small poster the size of notebook paper.  Beneath a large picture of my chocolate Labrador are the words Rescue Me, I'm Xena.

While it would be heartbreaking to loose family photographs and artifacts, pieces of furniture which belonged to my parents when they were children, letters and cards from cherished friends, artwork, decades of successful lessons and created games used in my school libraries and thousands of books, nothing is more precious than the being who has shared her fourteen years and seven months of life with me.  I remember asking my vet if moving from one home to another would be hard on Xena at this age.  He told me as long as Xena had me, wherever we were, she would be fine.  This truth about family is beautifully portrayed in words and pictures in Yard Sale (Candlewick Press, April 14, 2015) written by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner (Nana in the City) Lauren Castillo.

ALMOST EVERYTHING WE OWN is spread out in our front yard.  It is all for sale.  We are moving to a small apartment.

Callie's parents did take her to see the new apartment.  She will be sleeping in a bed which comes down from the wall.  No matter how nice it may be, it's strange to her.

She watches all the people walking around, looking at her family's possessions and asking about prices even though her mom and dad have labeled them.  She's hurt when a woman wants to give less for her headboard because of the crayon marks.  They aren't simply crayon marks to her but a record of something special.

As she chats with her best friend Sara, who brought along her little brother Petey, she abruptly stops in alarm.  A stranger is taking her bike.  She hurries over to tell him, reaching for it.  Her dad rushes to them; reminding her of a conversation they had about having no place to ride a bike at their new home.   Callie agrees to let the man have the bike on one condition.

Resuming her talk with Sara, it's clear the two are going to miss each other deeply.  They are not entirely sure of the reason for the move, but Callie believes it's about money.  Sara offers an exchange of Callie for Petey but she would miss her parents.

Their goodbyes said Sara and Petey leave as Callie watches people coming and their things going.  Prices are lowered.  A woman who thinks a seated Callie is adorable wants to know if she is for sale.  This alarms her.  Crying she runs to her mom and dad who reassure her with a group hug.  She will never be for sale.

Items left are now free.  Soon the yard and home are empty.  Some things are still full; the hearts of a mom, dad and their precious little girl.

To me the words of Eve Bunting, as a whole in this title, are infused with wisdom.  Within a day, she takes a situation experienced by many, a drastic change due to money, moving from losing things to understanding the value of those people we keep in our lives.  Through narrative thoughts and conversations we experience along with Callie her sadness, bewilderment and acceptance.

Bunting focuses on specific moments.  The comparison of a small empty apartment with a home filled with familiar things now on the lawn.  The woman who points out the crayon marks on the headboard has no idea of the significance to Callie.  It's like complaining about lines on a wall marking a child's growth.  It's the meanings attached to our things which she brings to our attention.

When Callie is confused by seeing her bike going, in the ensuing conversation, she is startled by what she sees in her dad's eyes. Bunting is careful to have the buyer be particularly understanding.  In this way, readers see how adults view these same shifts.   Bunting is building on each event during the day toward a hopeful conclusion, a new beginning filled with love and family.  Here is another sample passage.

Almost everything is gone.  Anything that's left my dad is selling cheap.  He and my mom look droopy.  My dad is rubbing my mom's back.  

Rendered in ink and watercolor by Lauren Castillo the matching dust jacket and book case reach right into the heart of the reader.  You can tell by the expressions on the characters faces, this yard sale is not about getting rid of unwanted items.  This yard sale signals a move.  You want to embrace this family.  In fact, to the left, on the back, a small oval set in the signature red background, frames the family in a group hug.

The yellow seen on the spine, in the chair on the lawn and in one of the balloons is the shade used for the opening and closing endpapers.  With a page turn Callie is holding the four balloons as her dad places the sign in the yard.  A two-page illustration holds the verso and title.  Rooftops are shown against blue sky and wispy clouds as one of the balloons floats away.

The next picture is also edge to edge across two pages.  We zoom in on Callie sitting on her front porch looking over the lawn filled with her family's belongings.  It's a beautiful day but we see the heartbreak in Callie by her body posture.  All of the illustrations either cross the gutter or cover double pages which enlarges the emotional impact.

Endearing in every single detail, through her color choices and perspective, Lauren Castillo binds us to all the characters.  Although Callie's age is never mentioned her bike has training wheels attached.  The pajamas worn by her best friend and her brother make you want to smile.  Castillo is meticulous but her softened lines, blended hues and the play of light and shadow are full of warmth. Careful eyes will see the passage of time through the balloons.

One of my several favorite illustrations is the scene of Callie and her dad talking with the man who is buying her bike.  We are close to the three of them.  We know Callie's dad is lovingly explaining to her by his body posture.  The buyer is squatting down on their level too with his hands clasped around his knees.  The bike is between them.  This is a powerful portrait.

I have yet failed to read this book without being deeply moved, even though I know the words and pictures well.  Yard Sale written by Eve Bunting with illustrations by Lauren Castillo is an eloquent depiction of one of life's hard times.  It's touching and brimming with trust.

Please follow the links attached to Lauren Castillo's names to access her website and blog.  This link will take you to a series of video interviews of Eve Bunting by Reading Rockets.  After her Caldecott Honor win, John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviewed Lauren Castillo on Watch. Connect. Read. For a truly lovely discussion of this title, please read the post by author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson at Kirkus.  UPDATE:  Julie has some of Lauren's process artwork on her blogEnjoy some of Lauren Castillo's tweets below in which she shares art from this title.

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